As we’ve reported here earlier, Bill Gates has deemed it time for a new toilet. For the last couple days, teams of engineers and designers from around the world arrived in Seattle to show off their best designs for the honey bucket of the future, competing against one another to see how they handled solid waste. Don’t worry, you guys, it’s all soy-based gunk — it’s just supposed to look a lot like poop, a goal at which it succeeds admirably. Participants in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, needed to meet several criteria set by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is throwing its philanthropic weight (read: millions of dollars of cash money grants) behind the project in the hopes of creating a functioning off-the-grid sanitation system for the developing world.
The perfect future toilet needs to operate without electric power or running water, and it can’t cost more than five cents a day to run it. Bonus points if it can capture energy or recycle waste into something useful in the process. Potty humor aside, this is actually a pretty noble endeavor that has the potential to save a lot of lives. Millions of people worldwide die every year from mostly preventable diseases due to not having adequate means of sanitation or waste disposal. Potty humor not aside, here are some really interesting new toilet designs that we feel you should be made aware of.
No. 1 | Caltech
Caltech's toilet is number one when it comes to managing number two, taking first prize at the Reinventing the Toilet challenge. It uses a solar powered electrochemical reactor to break waste down into fertilizer and hydrogen that is stored in fuel cells. It also recycles and stores water waste, which can be used to flush the toilet or to irrigate crops.
No. 2 | Loughbourough University
Loughbourough University's second prize toilet turns fecal matter into a highly combustible sludge. That sludge, when burned, powers a filtering process that recovers usable water and salts from waste.
No. 3 | University of Toronto
Solid waste is pushed through a series of rollers in the University of Toronto's third place toilet design. The resulting flat patties are then sterilized in a smolder chamber, while water is recovered from urine through a sand filter and UV light purification process.
No. 4 | Delft University
This toilet prototype from Delft University in the Netherlands uses microwave technology to dry out waste and convert it into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Those gasses then power a fuel cell and produce electricity.
No. 5 | Stanford University
This next-generation toilet from Stanford University pyrolyzes waste, decomposing it at a high temperatures without oxygen to sterilize it. And the resulting biological charcoal can be used as a low-cost fertilizer.
No. 6 | University of Kwazulu-Natal
The University of Kwazulu-Natal's toilet design burns waste solids while rerouting urine to storage tank where it is decontaminated, purified and repurposed for flushing and hand-washing.
No. 7 | National University of Singapore
The National University of Singapore's entry into the toilet fray serves up to 6 households at a time, separating and collecting waste through pneumatic delivery systems.
No. 8 | Eawag University
Powered by a foot pedal and using just a liter of water per flush, the Diversion toilet from Switzerland's Eawag University separates water waste from solid waste, and can clean and recycle the water through electrolysis. It also came away with a special prize for outstanding design of a toilet user interface, which has to be a first.